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Lord Beloff: My Lords, I am allowed to refer to other Members of Parliament. I am not allowed to quote them and I shall not. However, Mr. Menzies Campbell and Mr. Cook, who has been the engine of the campaign, appeared together on television to denounce Ministers.
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, I rarely interrupt in your Lordships' House but the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred especially to my speech as one of the most irresponsible he had ever heard because of an attack on Mr. Waldegrave. I pointed out to him that I made no mention of Mr. Waldegrave, except for one passing comment. I made no attack on him at all. As the noble Lord then shifted his ground and merely referred to somebody else I believe that he is being discreditable himself.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if he feels that I have defamed him. My impression certainly was that it was not an appeal to the House to consider the issues that arise from the report. They are issues of government organisation--"the machinery of government", to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees--the place of the intelligence services and other issues of major importance to which we could have given a lot of attention had it been the intention of the opening speakers not to concentrate on political issues.
My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham compared the report with the Scriptures as regards its length and weight. It seemed to me, as I read it, to be something rather different. I would call it the rich man's Le Carre. It is full of the most exciting and interesting sidelights on the problems that arise within governments when major issues depend upon the circulation of information, upon the briefing of individuals and upon cohesion of attitudes. Those are important issues and in opening our debate this afternoon, my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie indicated ways in which some of Sir Richard's suggestions or hints were being taken up within the machinery of government relevant to those problems.
Those are the matters on which we should have concentrated; but we did not. We have not had as much help as we could have had except from the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and to some extent from the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. The House has been
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I gather that there is a score in the test match which is being played in another place; that is, 319 to 320 in favour of the Government. I mention that in order immediately to capture the attention of the House for what I have to say.
Politics is a blood sport, so I was informed by my noble friend Lord Weatherill some years before I had the privilege of joining this House. He told me that merely the scent of blood was sufficient to result in a mad rush by the respective parties for the inevitable kill, irrespective of the damage which unintentionally they would be causing in the process.
The baying for the Attorney-General's blood began before the Scott Report. That the media should lead the pack was totally foreseeable because it falls to the unfortunate Attorney-General to be responsible for prosecuting cases of contempt of court and the media never forgive. In fact, since I have on occasion been critical of the media, I have taken the precaution of informing my wife that on no account should she ever read my obituary.
It is really quite startling that the attack upon the Attorney-General has continued despite the fact that the basis for that attack in relation to PII certificates has been totally destroyed. I should like to go straight to the very few references to the report that I intend to make. I start at page 1257 where Sir Richard Scott says:
Sir Richard Scott then traces the development of the law until he comes to a case much relied upon in 1992--namely, Makanjuola v. Commissioner of Police. He sets out on page 1260 of Volume III a fairly sizeable portion of the judgment of Lord Justice Bingham in which it is stated:
I shall read a small excerpt from the All England Reports at page 446. I do so because it is part of the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman who was cited as being on the side of Sir Richard in relation to the criticism of the Attorney-General. My noble and learned friend said:
I believe that a reference was made both by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, to the fact that there were differing views between the judiciary and counsel. I can find no trace of any differing views right up until the case which was last pertinent in relation to the Attorney-General's action; namely, the Makanjuola case in 1992. The suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that perhaps the majority of the opinion favoured that which was adopted by the Attorney-General just is not right. There was total unanimity. There has been no ability by anyone to refer to any authority that casts doubt upon the law as it was set out right up until that date. What is very odd is that on page 1260 Sir Richard Scott states,
There were two bases upon which the Attorney-General could be acquitted of any criticism on PII certificates: the one was that he in fact followed the law as it then stood, and in my submission he clearly did; or, alternatively, if the law was in any doubt--and Sir Richard does not suggest it was; he merely suggests it was wrong--whether the Attorney-General followed a course which a reasonable Attorney-General, on the
Your Lordships have heard--and I shall not repeat it--that certainly among the Law Lords who have spoken (and I include the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, having confirmed with him, as was obviously the case, that he shared the views of those who had spoken) there is total unanimity that the basis of the criticism levelled at the Attorney-General was quite unjust. I hope that it will not be persisted in in any further part of this debate.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I arrived early this afternoon in your Lordships' House, as is my custom. I was looking forward to having a debate on the substance of the Scott Report. I am somewhat disappointed to find--I have been here for most of the hours in which the debate has been going on--that what we really had today is the trial of Sir Richard Scott in absentia. This seems to me to be a little remarkable.
I was present when the Statement was made following publication of the Scott Report, under somewhat peculiar circumstances. There was wide praise from the Government Benches for Sir Richard Scott's perspicacity, intellect and power. Indeed, the Statement from the same Government Benches here was that he had comprehensively dismissed all charges that had been made against the Government.
I know that seven days is a long time in politics, and nine or 10 days is a wee bit longer, but never has there been so rapid a transition by a judge. He was conducted to the gates of heaven by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, but has made a sudden descent to Hades, to which everyone has been willing to consign him today. That seems to me to be a little odd.
Surely what really happened is that, when the full enormity of the report began to sink in, a new enemy had to be found. Instead of continuous and indignant demands for the resignation of the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the other place, this afternoon we have had an almost continuous denigration of a distinguished judge. I speak as a mere chartered accountant who, with my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Shaw, is interested in the ascertaining, marshalling and presentation of fact. Speaking for myself, I am not well versed in the complexities of the law that have been made clear to us today. I find this all very mysterious.
I did not make any demand for an inquiry. I did not denounce anybody. I know the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, very well and I have nothing against him. I did not ask for his resignation. Why should I suddenly be attacked for even looking at a report of this kind?
I was even more puzzled because, when the original Statement was made in which Sir Richard Scott was so warmly praised as having dismissed all the wicked canards against the Government, I said to myself that perhaps he was a very good judge. After all, he was made Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Division only three weeks ago. That is a not entirely uninfluential post, which has gone to what must be a most distinguished lawyer. We have had a chorus of other distinguished lawyers today.
What have we really learnt from this? For that we should go to the Prime Minister. It was the Prime Minister who appointed the inquiry. There was no pressure on him to do what was done by the Labour Government of 1945 to 1950, which appointed a tribunal to investigate the goings on of Mr. Belcher and one or two more. There was no demand for a tribunal, in which anyone called before it could have the benefit of counsel. Nobody raised a comment at the time, either about the Prime Minister's choice of the person to conduct the inquiry or the manner in which he conducted the inquiry. Nobody complained.
I speak as an outsider, without malice and without rancour, but as time passed it appeared to me that perhaps Sir Richard was getting too near to the truth for comfort. The noble Lord, Lord Howe, criticised the way the inquiry had been conducted and how inquisitorial it was, and how he had had no right to have counsel, or anything of that kind. At the same time, he did not say that any preliminary findings that were made by Sir Richard were forwarded to him to obtain his agreement with or concurrence in, or to pass comment on what was said. That seems to me to be a very fair thing.
Let us go back to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister immediately acted as he did. He said that Whitehall was already reviewing the code on open Government; he was considering a form of export controls, in particular as regards arms; he was tightening the rules for Ministers answering Questions in the Commons; he was going to curb the freedom of Customs and Excise to bring prosecutions; he was going to redefine the role and powers of the Attorney-General and the Treasury Solicitor; and he was going to review procedures to prevent future inquiries dragging on for three years or more. Something must have stirred the Prime Minister into action. If everything was so wonderful, so open and above board, why is it in need of reform? From the speeches one has heard this afternoon, one would think that everything was already perfect, or as near perfect as goddammit, and that it was a little irritating that Sir Richard had disturbed the sepulchral calm in which a non-political, non-party Government found themselves after some 16 years. That is how it appeared to me. Yet something must be wrong.
Mr. Alan Clark is very engaging in these matters. I have informed your Lordships from time to time about when he was a Member of the Council of Ministers. I could continue with more stories about when he was at the Department of Employment busily fiddling the employment figures. I use his own words. He is a very colourful person. But he was the person who actually caused the trial to collapse and thus fortunately avoided the possibility--I put it no higher than that; noble Lords know me: I am not given to hyperbole--that two innocent people might have gone to prison.
What really is the trouble? I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. This matter is not shaping well at all. It is extremely unfortunate, but there are lessons in it for us, as implied by the Prime Minister. He proposed to tighten the rules for Ministers answering Questions in the Commons. I hope that the Lords may be included in that. One observes from time to time that the replies received from the Government, both in another place and here, tend not always to be as informative as is desirable in a democracy. To use the words of one civil servant who gave evidence during the proceedings before Sir Richard Scott, answering questions of Members of Parliament tends to be an art form. It is quite permissible to give the minimum information possible; it is part of a tradition.
The reason for that is simple. It is that the powers of Parliament and its Members have declined progressively over the past 20 years. The contempt that Members of the party opposite hold for Parliament has grown proportionately. They almost treat Parliament as though they are above party politics, they are a superior race, not given to the human emotions that assail us from time to time when we pursue a political idea or a course of political action. They are above such things. Your Lordships opposite may have to face it, you have been so arrogant that you have treated Parliament with contempt. In a way, Parliament has deserved it, because Parliament has let power be taken away from it, not only in terms of the persistence in bringing in large chunks of secondary legislation but also in allowing its powers to be abdicated to the Commission in Brussels and the European Union. I know that there I carry the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, with me. The power of the British Parliament has been lessened.
Our problem today is that, without being jingoistic in any way, without being flag-wavers or anything of that kind, we must restore to Parliament the power that it ought to have. That is the power which great politicians and statesmen like Winston Churchill fully acknowledged. He was a servant of Parliament, he never presumed to dictate to it. Exactly the same applied to my colleague, Aneurin Bevan, who always treated Parliament with the utmost respect.
The fault of the Government and, after many years, senior members of the Civil Service and members of the establishment that serve it is that they have come to regard themselves as being in power in perpetuity. It must stop. If the lessons that can be learnt from Scott are to have any effect, those of us here and in another place who have the privilege of being Members of one of the greatest Parliaments on earth will have to exert ourselves to ensure that our powers as parliamentarians representing the people, as we do in many ways, keep an effective check on the governments that are elected.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I must admit that until about five o'clock this afternoon I felt extremely confused by the events of recent weeks since the publication of the Scott Report. I admit that I have trawled though it, ploughed through it, harrowed through it, read most of it and understood a little of it. I am confused. It is as though we are seeing a strange pantomime emerging before us, a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan or for me Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and that lovable character, cunning old Fury. He said:
There were two cunning old Furies sitting on the Benches opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I ask myself what is this debate about, and what are the conclusions. Where is the body? Where is the motive? If it is about public accountability, I do not have the ability to comment on that. But I believe the words of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and of many other Ministers that there was no attempt to deceive Parliament. If it is about perverting, distorting or corrupting the course of justice, I have no ability to comment on that at all; except I noted today a score of noble and learned Lords all of whom seemed to say that there was nothing illegal.
It worries me a little that I have always thought I was in the wrong business. It was a tradition in my family that we gave advice, passed down from father to son, that there were only three things that a man could do. First, he could help people to do it--in which case he became a lawyer and joined the professions. Or he could take the credit for them that did it--in which case he became a politician. Or, if he was a man, he went into foreign trade.
I have been involved in trade. I thought originally that trade sparked off this report. And yet, when I read through it, very few people who knew anything about trade were involved. This is not really a criticism of government, but noble Lords will be aware that, perhaps since 1974, there have been 55 different Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry. In general, civil
Those of us who have been involved in trade are now forced to disclose, as I would do anyway, our relevant interests. I apologise for boring your Lordships, and I will try to be as brief as possible. From 1979 to 1986 I was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade, the body that advises government on trade. I was on the BOTB from 1983 to 1986 on general trade. I was on the East European Trade Council for a few years. (I mention that only in relation to defence sales at that time.) I am president of the British Exporters Association and have been for some six years, trying to promote the development of trade, and I chair the international side of the Engineering Industries Association, which deals with small engineering companies that need overseas orders. All those jobs have been unpaid, but I had a pretty good team around me.
On the more commercial side, I am afraid that for many years I worked with Midland Bank, the main correspondent bank for most of the countries in the Middle East. We were also the bank for principal correspondence with Iraq and Iran. We had within our group Thomas Cook, which since 1927 was established in Baghdad and was the only British company to be established there. More than that, we were the managers of the £750 million line of credit backed by ECGD that has been responsible for some of the debts.
I have to disclose another interest. I have been to Baghdad many times. I went there recently. Noble Lords will be aware, and it is reasonable to point out, that you are not allowed to talk to Iraq if you are British without the amazing piece of documentation called "a permission to speak". I am probably the only Member of this House today who has a permission to speak. We have to be extremely careful when we speak, because the permission to speak comes from the Department of Trade and Industry. It states:
I make that point to illustrate that this country makes it extraordinarily difficult for anybody to do anything. Eighty per cent. of the expenditure of the Department of Trade and Industry is spent stopping you doing things. Lawyers, with great respect, seem to try to stop you doing things as well; and politicians cut the ground from under your feet.
But on the subject of trade, it is vital to our nation. I shall take noble Lords back in time and try to emphasise the reason why. Why is the Middle East important to us and why will it be important to us in the future? I go back to the late 1950s when post-Suez a decision was made that we should no longer seek to promote and protect any interest east of Suez. That decision, for whatever reason, sent a wrong signal to many parts of the world that we were no longer interested in an area that for many years had been under British rule or British protection. Our captive markets
I illustrate the point by pointing out that in the early 1970s OECD exports, which comprise the bulk of exports to the Middle East, were about 15 billion dollars a year and last year they were 108 billion dollars. Our own trade at that time in visibles, on which I concentrate as they have always been about two-thirds or more of all our business, were about 4.4 per cent. of all British visible exports. That figure then rose last year to something around 11 per cent. Significant to our economy is that for many years we had a surplus invisible trade, until maybe 15 years ago when things started to go wrong as our manufacturing base was eroded.
Last year in the Middle East we had a surplus of about £4 billion and a deficit overall of about £10 billion. That means that without Middle East trade our manufacturing sector would have been in deficit to around £14 billion. That is all significant. But I go back to my own involvement at that time.
As chairman of the committee, my job was to try to persuade industry and government to promote and develop trade with the Middle East. That was no easy task, since nobody was interested in the Middle East. It was made even more difficult because many of the countries which we thought had great potential were, to some extent, off limits. We had on our committee the head of the Middle East side of the Foreign Office, the head of the Middle East side of the Department of Trade and Industry, the Bank of England ECGD and many great luminaries from industry and elsewhere. We had a very private and friendly operation whereby we sought to promote and develop trade.
I return now to Iran and Iraq. Under the previous governments we sold substantial arms to Iran. With the change there and a major cutback in trade, we looked at the Middle East as a whole and we recognised that until a peace process was well under way or until there was a just and lasting peace, there would be the permanent problems of negative certificates of origin, the Arab boycott and so on. We looked at markets that were important and one of them was Iraq.
Iraq had few relationships with the United Kingdom. We wanted to see what we could do to encourage those. It was difficult because the Government always dragged their feet. In the end, my noble friend Lord Carrington stopped off in Baghdad on the way back from India, and immediately that brief political gesture opened up trade. I was asked to lead the first trade mission out there, which, I have to say, was not a particularly easy or pleasant experience. I was not used to being attacked and accused of being a lackey of the capitalist American pro-Zionist policies that had destroyed the stability of the world, and much of the usual rhetoric. I had not yet rehearsed the reply.
But Iraq and many countries of the Middle East have always felt securer under strong regimes. At the moment there is a strong and ruthless regime. There have been strong and ruthless regimes in other areas. We may not necessarily approve of the regime, nor need we have approved of it at that time, but the potential for trade was there. There was no Iran-Iraq war, and we started to trade in almost everything. Our trade went from virtually nothing to £500 million a year.
At that time there was a worry about defence. We suddenly found that defence sales had overtaken the sales of all other industrial equipment in the Middle East. So we wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence asking for guidance. The decision was made that, as we had trading relationships with Iraq, we could more or less trade in anything we wanted; but there were certain rules.
Those rules were not really guidelines. Guidelines were almost directing principles. It was what people felt was right and what was wrong. Directing principles go back a long way, and I should like to quote the original ones that I have always enjoyed and commend to your Lordships' House--those of 1st August 1650, known as the Instructions to the Council of Trade. There are 12 principles and I quote but one:
We discussed the issues at that time openly with government departments and others. Again I disclose an interest in that many of the Ministers and officials became good and close friends. It is absolutely impossible, in my view, that the Department of Trade and Industry could ever have encouraged someone to do anything illegal or wrong. Our difficulty was that our Government and government departments, unlike those of our industrial competitors, tended to drag their feet and make decisions rather late in the day. I believe that our standards of trade were extremely high--and are still higher than those of any other nation, which is demonstrated almost by the requirements that we have under the UN sanctions to have a permission to speak before discussing issues on Iran.
When I ceased those various jobs, I thought that the same relations that one had might be used to develop trade and that we should be looking to the future. Some 18 months ago I went to Baghdad, on my own, with full authorisation and knowledge, to look to see what would happen in the future. I went principally to discuss how we would recover the £1.2 billion debt that we were owed and also how developments might take place if and when Iraq conformed to the requirements of the United Nations.
As we know, the Iraqis are a tough bunch. They are not without a certain sense of humour. Most of them have been trained in the United Kingdom, usually in the Manchester area and are supporters of Manchester United or Manchester City. All of them have televisions in their offices and watch CNN and Sky. They respect strong government and I believe that they have a respect for us and believe that the British could play a greater
Why that is relevant--I regret doing this--is that in the course of my discussions I was told that some debts were owed to them. That related to an organisation that I was sent to see, and I had no idea who I was going to see, called the parent company of Matrix Churchill. This is relevant to some points made by noble Lords opposite, because I am not quite sure what to do about it. In a report I made I said:
Over time, in dealing with Iraq, one has had some amazing ups and downs. But overall I know full well that there have been no trade breaches in terms of lethal weapons. To the best of my knowledge, we had discussions about it with them before the Iran/Iraq war. I believe that the British Government's policy has been constant, strong and firm and is respected. I hope that when this debate is out of the way we will be able to turn again and look to the future of the development of our trade with the Middle East.
Lord Bridges: My Lords, at this stage of a long debate I must be as brief as I can, and in that I have been assisted by the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond, who has provided us with the essential background to the fluid politics of the Middle East which, while not covered in the Scott Report, are an essential part of the whole subject. So I shall speak very briefly on two matters which I think are relevant.
The first concerns the format of the report. Sir Richard's determination and the accumulation of detail are very impressive. But there are disadvantages in presenting the results in this way. A document of this importance should be readily accessible to legislators, journalists and the public; something that can be read and absorbed within a day or so. I do understand Sir Richard's dislike of the "executive summary", as he said recently, and I fully share that. But even so, a single volume could have contained the essence of his
My other comment relates to a matter which has been referred to, but not in any detail, by noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It concerns the future system for the control of our exports. Sir Richard is surely right when he suggests that the legislation on this subject needs a thorough review. I was very glad to hear what the Lord Advocate had to tell us in opening the debate. I agree with Sir Richard that the 1939 Act should be replaced. But I am not in agreement with a number of his other suggestions on this matter. Clearly, Sir Richard would like to see a tightly prescribed procedure, defined in precise legal terms, about the way in which export licences should be applied for, processed and issued. He thinks that an exporter should have the possibility of a formal appeal against the refusal of a licence. He is clear that the body responsible should not be the Department of Trade and Industry, although the department knows a great deal about the subject. Nor, he thinks, should foreign policy considerations play any part in the issue of licences. I should like to quote one sentence from his report. It is to be found in Volume IV, K2.20 on page 1,766. These are his remarkable words:
I find that remark rather alarming. The sentence I have just quoted does not seem to me to resemble the world in which we have been living or live now. To my knowledge, it has never been our object to hinder the transfer of technology to the third world. There has of course been a vigorous debate about the best means of transferring technology and what would be the best sort to transfer.
As to his remarks on the eastern bloc, first, it has ceased to exist, for the present at least. The reasons for seeking to control our exports of technology there in the past had to do with the maintenance of our own security. The objective was sensible, even if we did not always succeed. Some of the other suggestions look off target to me, not least because we live in a world where, happily, the need for export controls is steadily diminishing and covers only a very small fraction of our external trade. Building a large, new, legalistic edifice does not seem the best way to proceed.
I have spent some time on a subject which has not attracted much attention in the debate so far; but I suggest that the Government will wish to study Sir Richard's recommendations with their customary mixture of caution and scepticism.
Lord Rees: My Lords, it is fashionable nowadays to declare interests both conceivable and inconceivable. I should therefore like to follow briefly the example of my noble friend Lord Selsdon in declaring that at one brief stage in my career after 1983 I was Minister for Trade and was encouraged to take a delegation of businessmen to Baghdad. I reassure the House that the businessmen were, as far as I can recall, entirely from the construction industry and I have never heard that any of them engaged in building barracks or gun emplacements for the Iraqi regime. I hope therefore that I start this debate with a reasonably clean sheet.
Perhaps I may turn briefly to the report. Like other noble Lords, I find it difficult to thread my way through it. Sir Richard was admirably painstaking and thorough, but I suspect that a report of a quarter of its size would have attracted more than four times the interest and comment.
Picking up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, about how Sir Richard came to be in favour at one moment but out of favour at another, and speaking entirely for myself, I find it difficult, but not impossible, to cavil at his findings of primary fact, but I find it relatively easy to diverge from his conclusions of law--I find myself in very good company there--and from his conclusions on political practice and political phenomena. All that leads me to suspect that in other circumstances future Administrations will be very cautious about setting up a similar inquiry, unless with very much more restricted terms of reference.
With that, perhaps I may focus on the substantive issues. At this hour of the night and after over eight hours of debate, the ground has been pretty well tilled. Therefore, I hope that the House will forgive me if I treat the issues which I find important a little summarily.
The first is this: was the prosecution of the directors of Matrix Churchill properly brought? Secondly, did Ministers, and particularly the Attorney-General, by action or inaction, attempt to prevent a fair trial? Thirdly, did Ministers wilfully attempt to mislead Parliament or Members of it? On the first issue, it would be quite inappropriate now to consider raking over the facts to determine whether there was possibly a prima facie case against the company and its directors. What I believe is fairly clear is this: was the statement of the then Minister of Trade--- I do not suspect his motives at all and in one sense I believe that they were of the best, seeking, as he saw it, to promote British trade in a very delicately balanced part of the world--to the MTTA likely to mislead or encourage the directors of Matrix Churchill to undertake the transactions in which they were engaged? Equally, were the contacts--again, it is impossible for anyone not involved in that aspect of the inquiry to judge this completely accurately--with the intelligence services enough to warrant a great deal of reflection before any prosecution should be brought?
I shall merely state briefly at this hour of the evening that I believe that the prosecution should not have been brought. I was not, and am not, entirely reassured by the fact that counsel for the prosecution very honourably and properly withdrew the case with the concurrence of the judge. The question that needs to be considered now, which was identified by Sir Richard Scott, is the role of Customs and Excise as an independent prosecuting agency. Indeed, there may be other independent prosecuting agencies that need to have their role considered against this background. In particular, what about the relations between the prosecuting agency and other Departments of State? Of particular importance in this case were the Customs and Excise, who were enforcing the regulations of another department. The policy was not theirs. Indeed, nothing I say is intended to reflect on the integrity, energy and ability of the Customs and Excise, for whom, at another stage in my life, I had the privilege of answering in another place.
I believe that this was touched on in the opening speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser. It is important to consider whether a Minister, presumably the Attorney-General, should be more closely involved, particularly where government policy is at issue. As I said, that can be explored at leisure and I hope that my words chime in with what my noble and learned friend said in opening. He is nodding, I am glad to say, so may I leave it at that.
The second issue which I identify and which concerned me is, did Ministers, and in particular the Attorney-General, attempt to prejudice a fair trial? I believe it was a finding of fact that cannot be gainsaid that there was no question of a conspiracy here. Indeed, I do not believe that anyone in this House has attempted to argue for that. The question was perhaps the existence of the PII certificates. It must be established clearly by now not only inside but outside this House that the PII certificates are not gagging certificates, but merely pass to the judiciary the responsibility, which may be an onerous one, of striking a proper balance between the interests of government and those of justice. Beyond that there has been much very unfair criticism of the Attorney-General. More able voices than mine have come to his defence.
I understood that at an earlier stage, not in this House, the principal criticism was that he had totally misunderstood the law and was incapable and incompetent of discharging his proper functions as Attorney-General. The overwhelming weight of opinion from noble and learned Lords has persuaded me that almost certainly the Attorney-General got the law right. I know that two voices speaking from Opposition Benches have taken a different view. I can say only that I was not persuaded by what they had to say.
Perhaps the matter can be looked at again. Indeed, there is a case for looking at the whole question of the certificates and seeing whether the process can be reviewed and made a little more humane. I appreciate that the defence in a criminal trial must be extremely constricted if it is uncertain as to whether it can get its hands on something which may be directly material and relevant to its case. I believe that in this regard, too, further action and reflection are necessary. I am extremely pleased that the trial judge, to whom I wish to pay particular tribute, took a very robust view, with or without the Attorney-General's assistance.
I turn finally to the third issue: was Parliament misled? It is unfortunate and unfair that the accidents of public life leave the Chief Secretary alone in the firing line. I fully appreciate that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and others have been through the mill but they at least have the minor reassurance not only that they have been cleared but that their political careers do not turn on the outcome of today's debates.
Sir Richard Scott's conclusions leave the Chief Secretary's integrity intact, even if his judgment was called into question. However, we cannot do justice to the whole issue unless we view it in its true perspective. There was no question of personal or pecuniary interest; there was no Marconi scandal here. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, whose grasp of history is so acute, will recognise that there is nothing of that kind to taint this administration in this particular context. No personal frailties have been disclosed, and the media would certainly have done their best to enlarge the field of debate and inquiry had there been a hint of that.
It emerges clearly from the report that all the Ministers were concerned solely with national economic and foreign policy objectives. The Howe guidelines, if my noble and learned friend still accepts the paternity
I was deeply impressed by the speeches of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who gave us the Foreign Office background and implications of the issues which are the subject of these debates. Those speeches emphasised the fact that the guidelines were just that; they were not Holy Writ and they were not law to be applied rigidly. They were the background against which complex cases had to be judged and decisions reached. As so often in government, Ministers and civil servants were dealing with shades of grey and not with black and white questions.
Therefore, I reject utterly the accusation that there was a gross betrayal of the principles of parliamentary life. I am not attributing that to Sir Richard Scott but I do attribute it to some of the grosser attacks which have been made during the past three years and in particular, over the past three or four weeks.
I hope too that the country will recognise that all those decisions made by Ministers at the time had to be taken against a background of what our neighbours were doing. They were unashamedly selling not dual-purpose artefacts but nakedly military equipment. Really we were on the fringe of that trade during the relevant years, as I read the position.
I am bound to say that there is an element of hypocrisy in our national life at times which leaves our neighbours amused and even astounded. Therefore, while I hope that the Government will take very careful note--and I am sure that they will--of the points raised as regards the areas of public policy and practice which need review, I see no case for butchering two able and conscientious Ministers to make a Roman holiday.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, this debate is showing signs of becoming as long as the report with which it deals. Despite its length, it is still an impressive occasion. We have heard from two former Prime Ministers, one former Lord Chancellor and a former Attorney-General. And, of course, we have had a very notable maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Taverne.
The legal profession is always profusely represented in your Lordships' House. I am bound to say that the way in which they rallied round the Attorney-General in another place today rather reminded me of the boilermakers' union in the old days dealing with somebody who had been victimised on the shop floor. The Attorney-General certainly has plenty of friends on the Benches opposite. I do not think that Sir Richard Scott, as another distinguished lawyer featured in today's debate, has had as many friends on those Benches. I believe that the Government have treated Sir Richard Scott fairly shabbily. The Prime Minister
However, in general this has been a very different debate from that which took place 11 days ago when feelings ran very high because of the extraordinary behaviour of the Government regarding the publication of the Scott Report. I do not know whether it was a Minister or civil servant who coined the phrase "a controlled environment" as a device applying to a parliamentary opposition doing their job, but I am sure that he will earn his place in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Now that the dust has settled, as is usual in this House, your Lordships have delved into some deeper issues. The question whether Ministers in another place should resign is essentially for another place and I leave it there. But 11 days ago the Government, in their Statement which was repeated in this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, relied on two lines of defence. First, they relied on the words which they put into Sir Richard's mouth, as it turned out, at a press conference and then took out of context. I believe that Sir Richard has dealt with that properly and in a way which adds to the sense of shame of the Government over this affair. Their second line of defence was to rubbish the Opposition. Of course, when you have a weak case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney. I am inclined to agree with a letter which I read in The Times the other day by Sir David Crouch, a highly respected former Tory MP whom I know well. He said:
I do not intend in any way to retrace the ground covered by other speakers as regards whether or not Parliament was misled either in letters or in parliamentary Questions. However, I am bound to tell the Minister and those on the Benches opposite that if one wants evidence of the willingness of the Government to mislead Parliament--one cannot say "conspire" to mislead Parliament, because it was a very open conspiracy--one has only to look at the Government's Statement on the publication of the Scott Report and the press pack that was delivered to Peers at the same time.
Over the following weekend, politicians, the press and interested citizens had the opportunity to look at the report in the round and discover what a glaring gap there was between the Government's special pleading and the reality of the report. For my part, I found it deeply disturbing to discover at the beginning of the press pack a sheet of paper headed simply "Cabinet Office". That page began with the following words:
I have here a letter which the Minister sent to my noble friend Lord Harris on the arrangements regarding the publication of the report. My noble friend asked about the number of officials who had an opportunity to see the report before the press pack was compiled. The answer that was given stated that there was,
The Scott Report is the second major report into public concerns about standards in Whitehall and Westminster. It follows the report of the Nolan Committee upon which I served, although I am speaking tonight entirely on behalf of my party and not in the least on behalf of that committee. In that report, we dealt with the duty of Ministers:
I am bound to say that the grotesque gloss of the press pack on the Scott Report puts a great strain on the concept of the political impartiality of the Civil Service. It seems to us to be further evidence that the present Government have been the political masters of the Civil Service for too long. They have placed the leadership of the Civil Service under unprecedented pressures. I believe that it would have been better if successive Cabinet Secretaries had taken a leaf out of the book of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who, I am sorry to say, started the process, and said to successive Prime Ministers, including the noble Baroness, "No, no, no!"
However, until today, the Government have largely refused to concede that there were any errors in their behaviour in the matters investigated by Scott. Any concessions seemed to be regarded as a sign of weakness, and it is only really today that they have spelt out their attitude on the practical recommendations that Sir Richard makes to deal with the weaknesses in
The starting point for reform in this area of government policy has to be, as has been mentioned by one or two noble Lords, the murky business of the international arms trade. Short of world disarmament, the arms trade is a necessary evil and the Prime Minister again deserves credit for his part in establishing a United Nations register of arms sales. Smaller, developing countries have the same right as the rest of us to security and self-defence. The trouble is that the arms trade tends to corruption, both morally and sometimes criminally, encouraged by the secrecy which surrounds it. The other day I came across a new organisation called Transparency International, set up recently in Berlin, with a section in the United Kingdom. It is seeking to establish with both governments and industry--I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, may be interested in this--an international code of conduct and openness to prevent corruption in international business transactions. It deserves a fair wind. I very much agreed with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said in drawing attention to the Church's report on these matters. It is important in terms of the arms trade to make sure that there is an open, moral purpose at the core of export policy in this field. I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Rodgers in this respect.
Transparency, both national and international, is the real lesson the Government should learn from the Scott Report. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, explained to us, there are limits to how far freedom of information can go in conducting foreign policy or foreign trade. Indeed, I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, that there are limits as regards a freedom of information Act in terms of internal decision-making processes. But I must say that all the evidence of the Scott Report is that we still have some way to go before we reach any of these limits. This report shows Whitehall not only in the grip of the culture of secrecy to which my noble friend Lord Taverne referred, but actually divided into separate baronies, each competing with each other in terms of secrecy. The intelligence authorities keep their cards so close to their chest that the Customs authorities are ignorant of their reports. The Customs authorities in their turn cherish their sovereignty as an independent prosecuting authority which does not need to tell the Crown Prosecution Service or the Attorney-General what it is up to. The Attorney-General, in turn, is the guardian of the arcane theology of the public interest immunity certificates. Noble Lords will be relieved to know that I certainly do not intend to enter into that territory at this time of night.
However, I am bound to tell the Minister that I thought in many ways the most powerful speech in this debate was the speech made by my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. It requires a serious answer from the noble and learned Lord. If I may say so, it deserves an answer from him in his role as a distinguished Scottish lawyer rather than in his
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was absolutely right that the rot started with the decision not to publish the guidelines when they were originally put together. Everything followed from that decision. There has been far too much of what my noble friend Lord Russell called unintelligent secrecy about the Government. If only they had been ready to learn the lessons of seeking a much more open society earlier, Sir Richard Scott and his team might have been saved their magisterial and marathon labours, and we would all have been saved a very long read.
I shall start immediately with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The noble Lord accused my noble friend Lord Richard and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, of being political. I nearly fainted away at the use of the word. I was shocked. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, might care to reflect on the lives of noble Lords I am looking at now who are sitting on the Government Privy Council Bench. What business have they been in all these years? I thought they were in politics. I never thought there was anything wrong in that. What is wrong with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and my noble friend Lord Richard being in politics? I am above that kind of thing, but that is another matter.
If I have to choose between the judgment of Sir Richard Scott and that of the apologists for the Government whom I have heard today, I have no doubt whom I trust and believe. More to the point, I have no doubt whom the public trust and will believe.
I gather that I am in a minority, but I regard the report as absolutely fascinating. I regard it as a great achievement, in its uncovering and mastering of the facts, its balanced judgments and its analytical skills. In particular, I appreciate its understatement. I disagree with those who wish it was shorter. I wish that some of the speeches today had been shorter, but that is another matter. I shall continue for quite a long time, so noble Lords may get used to that idea. I have sat through all the speeches, and I feel I have an investment which I am entitled to cash in.
I disagree with noble Lords, including many on my own side of the House, who wanted a simpler account of ministerial failure and incompetence. The essence of this report lies in the detail and the building up of the case. That case is overwhelming. When the history of this Government is written, the Scott Report will be a document of overwhelming importance. The Government's initial response will always be looked at, as will some of the speeches today.
Let me turn immediately to the colleague of noble Lords opposite, Mr. Heseltine. We have discussed quite a lot about the PII certificates and the details. I shall say a word or two on that although I have no legal expertise. In reflecting on some of the views expressed, I wonder whether noble Lords appreciate that they are also saying that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Heseltine, was completely mistaken. My reading of the report is that, apart from Sir Richard Scott, one man who stands out as a human being was Mr. Heseltine. Mr. Heseltine was not going to be pushed around; he was not going to be an apparatchik. He wanted to think for himself. He sensed there was something wrong here.
However, I take it that what noble Lords are saying is that Mr. Heseltine was mistaken. The report states that at first he refused to sign any certificate. He seemed to think it would be unjust to the defendants. To put it in Americanese: "You're damned right he thought it was unjust to the defendants". That is the way in which any ordinary person not expert in law would respond. I have to emphasise to noble Lords that in expressing some of their views, they are saying that their rather distinguished colleague, acting as a decent human being, simply was wrong.
I am left slightly puzzled subsequently by the Deputy Prime Minister. He emerges from the report (if I may use the expression) smelling of roses. He showed common sense and human decency to the highest degree. He reflected on what he was asked to do by lawyers and could hardly believe that what they wanted was right. No one denies that; he could not believe that it was fair and that it would lead to justice.
What I do not understand is how he continues in his current role, a glorified PRO for the Government. Having himself done the right thing, why is he defending his colleagues? When we read his memoirs--I assume that they will be written fairly soon now--we shall perhaps have some enlightenment on that.
Like other noble Lords, I have no intention of intervening on what the law is. If distinguished lawyers tell me that that is the law, I figure that that is the business they are in and I shall not argue with them. I have my views on certain philosophical aspects of the relationship between what they tell me is the law and what I might call justice, but that is another matter and I can save it for another day. What cannot be doubted is that the Attorney-General acted without reading certain important documents, and we know that he did not reveal Mr. Heseltine's doubts to the judge. Those things are established.
Although my question cannot be answered now, noble Lords can take me to one side later. Noble and learned Lords who have spoken today have sought to defend the Attorney-General, mostly on the ground that he is a nice guy--as though that had anything to do with the substantive issue before us. That has nothing to do with the matter. Will the noble and learned Lords who have spoken on this tell us whether they regard what he did, or what he failed to do, as showing appropriate professional behaviour? I am not talking of the law but of his role as a professional person. Separate from the law itself, if those noble and learned Lords were lecturing to some young lawyers, would they recommend the way in which the Attorney-General conducted himself as an appropriate model for those young lawyers? I do not ask the question rhetorically; I should like to know the answer.
It has been suggested that there is something obscure about certain aspects of the Scott Report. My difficulty is that the report seems extraordinarily clear. I refer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. Perhaps I may establish the ground rules. I believe that one can hold someone in high esteem, as I hold the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and still say that what he says is wrong. I hope that we can distinguish between those two matters. However, on the question of guidelines, Sir Richard regards the noble and learned Lord's attempt to distance the guidelines from policy as no more than a play on words. That is a devastating remark. Scott then says that the letter from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, to the Prime Minister referred to the guidelines as new "policy".
I said that Scott believed in understatement. That is what some people objected to, he uses his language carefully, it is understated but it is more devastating because of that. He uses such expressions as "not accurate",
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